The federal government is going ahead with its controversial $15-billion sale of state-of-the-art light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia even as it publicly condemns the kingdom’s human rights record.
Foreign Affairs Minster Stéphane Dion denounced the mass execution of 47 people, including a dissident Shia Muslim cleric that has raised the tensions in the region to a new high.
“Canada is particularly concerned that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr could further inflame sectarian tensions in the region,” Dion said in a written statement released on Jan 3. “We urge Saudi Arabian authorities and local and regional leaders, including those in Iran, to work with all communities to defuse these tensions and promote reconciliation.”
But neither that nor concern over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been enough to prompt Ottawa to cancel the transaction, which is expected to support about 3,000 well-paying jobs in Canada for the next 14 years, according to the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI).
Under federal export control rules the government must make sure that “arms sales are carefully reviewed and human rights considerations are seriously taken into account.”
Human-rights groups say the deal to export lethal combat vehicles to the ultra-conservative kingdom doesn’t pass this test. They point to Riyadh’s abysmal human rights record and reports that Saudi Arabia sent Canadian-made LAVs into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell the uprising by the majority Shia population against the Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy.
Ottawa says it has no information believe the Canadian-made LAVs were used against the protesters.
“Canada has some of the strongest export controls in the world through the Export and Import Permits Act,” said a statement from Global Affairs Canada. “Export permits are only approved if they are consistent with Canada’s foreign and defence policies, including human rights.”
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has inherited the deal from its predecessor, the Conservative government, which lobbied Riyadh hard to get the contract.
The deal to export the LAV 6.0 model was brokered by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a state-owned agency that helps Canadian exporters – in this case London-based General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS-C) – access foreign markets.
While the deal has drawn criticism from human rights and peace groups, it has been applauded by the defence industry, which says it strengthens Canada’s standing as a world-class producer of advanced weapons systems.
“We are a very export intensive industry and Canadian defence and security companies are producing the world-class goods, services and technologies sought the world over,” said Christyn Cianfarani, president of CADSI. “Our strong export record helps Canada’s industry employ 109,000 Canadians in high-value jobs across Canada.”
Still the deal is likely to complicate Trudeau’s plans to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran that were severed in 2012, when former Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down the Canadian embassy in Tehran and expelled all Iranian diplomats from Canada.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have been at loggerheads ever since the Islamic Revolution in Iran deposed the Shah in 1979. Tehran and Riyadh have been waging proxy wars against each other in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
In fact, the Canadian-made LAVs could be used against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Sunni Gulf states to defeat the Shia rebels.